A terrorist, preliminarily believed to be affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban, detonated a suicide bomb inside a mosque typically used by police in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Monday, resulting in at least 32 deaths and trapping a still-unknown number of people under rubble.
The incident targeted a mosque within an area of the city known as Police Lines that houses facilities for law enforcement officers. Police confirmed that the bombing occurred during Islamic afternoon prayers when at least 120 people were inside the mosque. The bomb reportedly went off moments after prayers began. The detonation reportedly caused the roof of the mosque to collapse, trapping the faithful inside and causing severe injury. Police officials emphasized calls to the public to donate blood to save those injured.
At press time, Pakistani authorities confirmed 32 deaths and over 150 injuries, the Pakistan Express Tribune confirmed. Sahibzada Noorul Amin, the imam presiding over the mosque, was among the dead.
Scenes after the #Peshawarblast people are coming out of the rubble, many still under the rubble of demolished mosque. Death toll reaches to 28, 120 injured. DC Peshawar.@SyedWiqasAhmad1 pic.twitter.com/dpKl8PqnVO
— Abdulhaq Omeri (@AbdulhaqOmeri) January 30, 2023
The Express Tribune, citing police authorities, said the yet-unnamed suicide bomber entered the mosque, typically equipped with higher security given its status as a facility police officers frequent, and detonated his bomb in the front row of the main hall, where afternoon prayers were underway.
“Close to 300-400 policemen usually offer prayers at the Zuhr time. If a blast has taken place inside police lines then it is a security lapse but an investigation into the matter can reveal further,” Capital City Police Officer, Peshawar (CCPO) Ejaz Khan told reporters following the attack, according to Pakistan’s Geo TV. An eyewitness quoted by the news network estimated that “at least 120 people” were in the mosque during the bombing and that the suicide bomber had to be in the inner courtyard of the mosque to cause the damage he did.
Authorities confirmed most of those injured and killed were police officers.
Dawn, a Pakistani national newspaper of record, noted that the mosque and the area around it is “one of the most tightly controlled areas” of Peshawar. Quoting Khan, the police officer, the newspaper confirmed that the roof of the mosque had collapsed and “a number of jawans [officers] are still stuck under the rubble.”
“It is apparent that a security lapse occurred,” Khan said at a press conference, alongside medical and other police personnel who emphasized the need for blood to save the survivors.
While no organization or individual took responsibility for the bombing immediately, by Monday evening, a top member of the Pakistani Taliban (Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP) had described the bombing in a public statement as a revenge operation in the name of a slain TTP member.
“The blessed martyrdom attack within Peshawar’s police line is part of the revenge series for martyr Omar Khalid Khorasani, may Allah have mercy on him, in which the enemy suffered heavy casualties, Alhamdulillah,” Sarbakaf Mohmand, a senior TTP terrorist, wrote in a post on Twitter.
پشاور میں پولیس لائن پر ہونے والا مبارک استشھادی حملہ، شھید عمر خالد خراسانی رحمہ اللہ کے انقامی سلسلے کا حصہ ہے ، جس میں دشمن کو بھاری جانی نقصان اٹھانا پڑھا، الحمدللہ pic.twitter.com/X24FwpWcVC
— Sarbakaf Mohmand (@SarbakafM) January 30, 2023
Omar Khalid Khorasani was a founder of the TTP killed in Afghanistan last August.
The TTP is separate from, but sympathetic to, the Afghan Taliban, which now operates as the undisputed government of Afghanistan. Unlike the Afghan Taliban, the TTP is a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization.
“TTP leaders also publicly say that the group seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate in Pakistan that would require the overthrow of the Pakistani Government,” a profile of the group by the American Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) explains. “TTP historically maintained close ties to senior al-Qa‘ida leaders, including al-Qa‘ida’s former head of operations for Pakistan.”
The TTP has been increasingly active in light of the Afghan Taliban taking over that country in August 2021. Most recently, it organized the storming of a police station in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the province where Peshawar is located and successfully seized the station for 24 hours before Pakistani authorities repelled the terrorists.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif traveled to Peshawar on Monday to assess the damage, proclaiming the mosque attack had “nothing to do with Islam.”
“Terrorists want to create fear by targeting those who perform the duty of defending Pakistan,” he asserted, according to Dawn.
The bombing arrives at a perilous political moment for Sharif, who has been in the top government position for less than a year and is facing stiff opposition from his ousted predecessor, Imran Khan. Khan, the radical Islamist leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party, is undergoing a nationwide tour to rile up protests against Sharif and demand elections to restore his position as prime minister.
“It is imperative we improve our intelligence gathering & properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism,” Khan wrote in a statement posted to Twitter.
Strongly condemn the terrorist suicide attack in police lines mosque Peshawar during prayers. My prayers & condolences go to victims families. It is imperative we improve our intelligence gathering & properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) January 30, 2023
The PTI canceled an anti-inflation protest scheduled to take place in Peshawar on Monday and has limited criticism of Sharif in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Notably, Khan failed to cancel his appearance at protests in November even after surviving an assassination attempt, showing up to deliver a speech in Wazirabad sitting in a wheelchair a day after getting shot.
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